Pharmacies

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You can buy plenty of drugs in London, no questions asked. All the things which are useful to have around just in case: painkiller, cough and throat medicine, antidiarrheal, tablets against allergic reactions and indigestion. You can pick all of them up in a Boots store, or indeed lots of supermarkets.

And they’re so cheap! Want 16 doses of moderately powerful pain killer? That’s 35p. It makes creating a little box of standby medication very easy.

I thought when I first moved to Vienna that the store DM was equivalent to Boots in the UK, but they don’t actually sell drugs. It’s seems the law here is a lot stricter, so all pharmaceuticals have to be bought from trained staff at an “Apotheke”. Instead what DM sells are various plant-based alternatives without active ingredients.

I’ve also found it harder to find the same super cheap versions of medicines here. I don’t know which approach to the sale of medicine is better, but each time I’m back in the UK I take advantage and do a little drug shopping.

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Cost of Wine

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Wine in Vienna is amazing.

No, not the €2 two litre bottles in the photo above (I haven’t tried them), but the ordinary stuff you can get in any supermarket or “Vinothek” which costs €3 or €4 or €5 a bottle. The selection is mostly from Austria, and most of it is nice to drink.

This is odd to me because in London you do not buy a €5 bottle of wine and expect it to taste nice. €5 is the level where it’s just about the cheapest one in the shop and you’re buying it purely for getting drunk / taking to the house party of someone you don’t like.

The reason for this is tax: of a €5 bottle of wine in the UK, €3.80 goes to the government, so the wine is actually €1.20. A €4 bottle? That’s less than €0.50 wine! Plus, the UK doesn’t make much wine (reason: weather) so it’s all imported.

All that means I’ve steered clear of wine while being in London and told people that I’m not a “wine person”. However, now that I’m in a country where it’s basically as cheap as water, bring it on!

Supermarket Checkouts

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You have to be quick when paying at a supermarket in Vienna. The cheaper the supermarket, the faster you have to pay and get out of the way. Checkouts in the UK never used to feel like relaxing places to me, but compared to Vienna they are.

Here’s how it works in Vienna: as in London, food is placed on a conveyor to get it to the checkout. Unlike in London, from there it’s slid (literally pushed) across the scanner by an employee and you’re expected to catch it at the other end. If you don’t catch it, it might stop before the end of the counter or it might end up on the floor. The employee doesn’t care because they’re already sliding across the next item. And the next. And the next. And they don’t stop until the last item when they immediately demand your cash.
You can try and take on the challenge and stuff it all in your bag at the same speed as it’s coming at you, but remember: these guys are professionals! They do this all day every day! It’s unlikely you’ll succeed. Or you can resign yourself to putting all your shopping back in your trolley/basket and moving it to a dedicated packing area to pack in your own time.

“Do you have your own bag?”, “Do you need any help with packing?”, ” Why are you buying this pumpkin?” are all questions I’ve genuinely been asked by the checkout staff at supermarkets in London. There’s a bit more time given to each customer, and possibly even a short conversation.

No chitchat in Vienna. It might distract you from catching the box of eggs hurtling towards you.

It’s odd to have such a frantic ritual in such a normally calm city.

Weekend Word

One of my favourite German words is “Glühbirne”. It means lightbulb. The reason I like it is the way it so accurately describes the appearance of a lightbulb: “glühen” means “to glow” in German, and “Birne” is a pear.

Die Glühbirne: the glowing pear.

Bins

Bin

Not the most glamorous topic, but it’s striking how many more bins there are in Vienna than London. The bins are tied to posts along every street, and include a place to stub out cigarettes. There are also plenty in the U-Bahn (Underground) and other public transport. They seem to be regularly emptied.

That all sounds perfectly normal doesn’t it? However in London you can be searching for a bin for quite a while. The city has relatively few bins, partly due to a paranoia that they could be used for bombs as well as rubbish. The financial area of London even removed all bins during the IRA bombings of the 1970s and 80s, and has been hesitant to put any back. The parks in London have some, but they are always overflowing.

Good job Vienna!

Smoking

Cigarette machine in train station, Vienna
Cigarette machine in train station, Vienna

During my time at university in the UK, a nationwide ban came into force which stopped people smoking in all pubs, clubs, gig venues, restaurants, cafes, etc. The biggest effect for me (a non-smoker) was smell: in my first year of university I associated pubs with the smell of smoke, in my last year they smelt of stale beer; clubs which used to smell of smoke now smelt of sweat and stale beer. The fact that my clothes didn’t stink after going out somewhere was a relief, and I quickly got used to it (along with the rest of the country).

People in Vienna smoke a lot, and they can do it just about wherever they want to. Certain institutions are required to provide small “no smoking” areas, but they are usually inaccessible without walking through a room full of smoke first. Cigarettes are still relatively cheap and can be bought from machines dotted all over the city.

It’s like going back to pre-2007 UK, and nowhere is this more obvious than visiting a “British/Irish-style pub”. As soon as you walk through the door of one of these establishments and get hit by the wall of smoke you notice it’s not like visiting a pub in London at all, but one that’s between transported from 10 years ago. And it’s going to this kind of place which makes me appreciate the ban in the UK all over again. Clear air! No stinging eyes! No trouble breathing! No lingering smell!

Some people see Austria as one of the last remaining civilised places in Europe since it doesn’t restrict that God-given right of setting fire to things in confined spaces. However I think it’s only a matter of time until a smoking ban is enforced here (the Health Minister is pushing for it right now), and I’ll be happy when it is.

Crossing the Road

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London: Wait – unless you don’t want to

London is a place where the roads are full of traffic. Not just cars, but buses, taxis and motor and non-motor bikes. At rush hour, crossing the road in central London is quite a challenge if you’re not at traffic lights. First you have to get past the cyclists making their way down the edge of the road trying not to be crushed by a bus. Then there are the aforementioned buses along with other 4-wheeled transport. Next the scooters and motorbikes chancing it in the middle of the road, and finally a few daring cyclists on the wrong side of the road altogether. The thing is – although the taxi drivers will get pissed off when you jump in front of them – at least you’re still allowed to have a go at crossing the road wherever you like.

I came to enjoy the “thrill” of taking my life in my hands, so imagine my horror when I arrived in Vienna and found it’s not socially acceptable to cross the road unless there’s a green man! It’s also against the law, but “not socially acceptable” is the more important part, since there are plenty of laws everywhere which are collectively ignored. The breaking of this one will lead to stern stares and maybe even tutting. It doesn’t usually get picked up by the police (although someone was fined €140 recently), but that kind of social disapproval is too much for me to bare, so I stand at the crossing like a good Austrian.

It turns out that waiting to cross the road isn’t so bad after all. I think it adds to the calmer feeling Vienna has. Plus it’s probably for the best in my case: I still haven’t got used to cars driving on the right here so I think it would be even more dangerous than in London.